Polaris redesigned its surprise hit Slingshot three-wheeler for 2020, and the improvements make a night and day difference. With that kind of work put in already, you might be surprised to hear the company is making more changes a year later, but they’re some of the key improvements I was hoping to see, making the 2021 Polaris Slingshot R the best one yet.
The biggest upgrades are software-related. Polaris has gone through and recalibrated its “Autodrive” five-speed automated manual transmission after only a year on the market to improve shift time and smoothness. A five-speed manual remains standard and it should be noted the automatic is a $2,000 upcharge.
2021 Polaris Slingshot R: Updated Gear
If I’m honest, I didn’t notice much of a difference. The Autodrive transmission was already among the best automated manuals on the market, shifting smoother than any other gearbox of the type I’ve driven at any price. If anything, it feels like the engineers have programmed more separation between the Comfort and Slingshot drive modes. Comfort feels a little more lethargic and Slingshot just a little sharper. Previously, I was perfectly happy to drive around in Comfort mode, but now, I prefer driving in Slingshot mode all the time. The response from the engine and transmission better fit the character of the vehicle.
I was disappointed to find Slingshot mode hasn’t improved in performance driving scenarios. It’s no more clever about when to downshift and when not to upshift than it was previously. Now, it was pretty good before, but most sports cars these days do it better. Thankfully, a companion update for ’21 is paddle shifters and a manual mode so you can do it yourself. The paddles react immediately, and (as it shouldn’t) the computer won’t automatically upshift if you run it out to redline. You’re in control, and it makes driving the automatic transmission much more enjoyable on the best driving roads.
Also improving your control over the vehicle is a new automatic hill-hold feature. Because Autodrive is a computer-controlled manual transmission, it used to roll backward (or forward) on a hill when you took your foot off the brake. Now the computer lightly applies the brakes so you don’t have to rush your foot from the brake to the gas to keep from rolling back. It’s a little thing, but it provides a lot of peace of mind.
Don’t fret, 2020 Slingshot owners, because Polaris isn’t leaving you out in the cold. Both the software and the paddle shifters can be retrofitted to a 2020 Slingshot at your dealer.
Also new and available for digital retrofit is Apple CarPlay, which is now standard on new models Unfortunately, it doesn’t work unless you connect a Bluetooth headset first, and not owning one, I couldn’t use it at all. I get why Polaris wants you to use a headset for hands-free calling and Siri requests, but it would be nice if you could still use all the other CarPlay functions without it. Otherwise, the system treats your phone like an iPod.
An iPod with more speakers and better audio quality, at least. A pair of tweeters on the dash improve high-frequency clarity, and an optional pair of speakers behind the headrests improve the soundstage, better enveloping you in the music. Even still, I found I needed to crank every slider on the equalizer to maximum to get enough body. Otherwise, the sound was thin and lacked bass. It’s also worth noting the optional speakers fill spaces in the roll hoops behind the seats, blocking some of the visibility over your right shoulder.
The other major update for ’21 is optional heated and cooled seats. Polaris lists them as a $1,200 standalone accessory, so you can equip the kit on whatever trim you choose. Given the Slingshot has no heater, A/C, or even a fan, I think they’ll be a popular add-on.
2021 Polaris Slingshot R: Accessory Excess
Those aren’t the only new accessories. Slingshot owners love customizing their three-wheelers, and Polaris has a bunch of new dress-up parts to sell them. Most are aesthetic, but the collection of fitted, waterproof, zippered bags that attach to the dash, frame, center console, and more are welcome additions given how little storage space the Slingshot has. You can also get your accessories grouped into various “Series.”
Otherwise, the 2021 Slingshot looks and drives just like the ’20 version, though the paint schemes are louder. Another go behind the wheel did bring a few fresh revelations to add to my review of the 2020 model. First, the Slingshot is wide. Sure, it tapers in the back, but the front end is as wide as a sedan or SUV, so don’t think you’re going to be sneaking it into compact spots. Second, the center-mounted LED headlights project a narrow, low, and somewhat dimmer beam than you’re used to in a modern car, so keep a sharp eye driving at night. Finally, remember the computer has to move things around inside the transmission when you switch between reverse and drive, so don’t rush it jumping on the gas too quickly, or it’ll just end up in neutral and you’ll go nowhere.
Upgraded as it may be this year, the Slingshot still isn’t for everyone. As predicted, though, the automatic transmission has made it for a lot more people than before; Polaris reports 80 percent of 2020 Slingshot customers were both first-time buyers and bought the automatic. As before, for those who want one, it’s better than ever.
|2021 Polaris Slingshot R|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 0-door autocycle|
|ENGINE||2.0L/203-hp/144-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||5-speed auto-clutch manual|
|CURB WEIGHT||1,650 lb (mfr est)|
|L x W x H||149.6 x 77.9 x 51.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.9 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON||35/45/39 mpg (MT est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||96/75 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.50 lb/mile (est)|
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